Sunday, December 9, 2007

Korean News

The latest big news here.

From The Korea Times:

The police and military were continuing Friday a full-scale manhunt for a fugitive who attacked two marine sentries and fled with their weapons, but so far have only found his burnt-out sports utility vehicle.

At a meeting of top military commanders, Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo ordered them to step up efforts to catch the man in cooperation with the police. The authorities have strengthened guards at major government facilities and banks, with 1,800 troops searching for the suspect.

Police found the charred Korando SUV _ identified from reports by witnesses _ in a rice field in Hwaseong, southwest of Seoul, 105 kilometers away from the assault site and 10 kilometers away from highway exit.

At 5:30 p.m., Thursday, a man said to be in his 30s, ran his car into the marines _ Sgt. Lee Jae-hyeok and Pfc. Park Yeong-cheol, both 20 _ who were walking back to their base, outside a military checkpoint on Ganghwa Island, northwest of Seoul. Park was rendered unconscious while Lee was knocked down.

After driving back to the soldiers, the suspect got out of his car, pretending that it was just an accident. He then stabbed Lee with a knife several times, while Lee retaliated by hitting the man in the head with his K-2 rifle until he bled, according to Lee and witnesses.

That would be the same Ganghwa-do I visited a couple of months ago.

In less exciting news, the sledding hill at Incheon Grand Park is open for business.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sorae Market: The Video

As fall entrenches itself here, I haven't been much in the mood to explore any new areas. I've been out several times on the bike, but the early sun sets, chilly winds, and a back tire that keeps wanting to go flat on me have kept me close to home. I made another trip down to Sorae last weekend and pulled out the video function on my camera. It definitely won't be the most exciting 9 minutes of your life, but I figured it would be a good glimpse at one of my favorite locales here in Korea.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Korean style

For a change of pace, I'm introducing a new game. Figure out how many cops and security guards it takes to direct traffic at this intersection.

Now on to the fun.

Fishing, Korean style

I suppose when most people go fishing, they just want to relax and get away from the crowd. Compared to most places in Korea, I suppose this counts as "getting away."

Fishing Village, Korean style

As if Sorae wasn't crowded enough, they've started on another 20 building apartment complex. I'm guessing this place was home to about 5,000 people not too long ago. Within the next 5 years, the population will probably be well over 50,000. I love checking out the market from the bridge. Going into the market is a nightmare.

Village Police, Korean style

An astute eye might say that there are 9 cops and security guards directing traffic at this intersection. In reality, there are another five supervisors / back-ups located off camera to the left. So the correct answer is 14.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Chusok is the Korean Thanksgiving. As it is a lunar holiday, the 3-day vacation associated with it may fall at any time during the week. This year, Chusok fell on Tuesday, so we got a 5-day weekend. Instead of being stuck on a crowded bus or train, or left to wander around an empty city, I headed back out to Ganghwa Island. It is technically part of Incheon, but is about 40 km northwest of what most people consider Incheon.

Day 1: The trip out

I headed out on Saturday, aiming for Donmak beach, located on the south end of the island, as my first camping spot. After crossing over the Choji bridge, I headed south along the coast. I've been along the east coast between the bridge, but this was the first time I had explored this area. The east cost is mainly old forts and battlements from the 19th century. Once I got away from the coast, the island revealed itself to hold a more than just historical artifacts. Typical Korean construction consists of concrete boxes. Lots of concrete boxes. But on Ganghwa, there exhibits the existence of actual architects in Korea. I found the architecture to be quite varied and a welcome surprise. Here are a couple of the more interesting buildings I found. The green and yellow one is a cafe. I think the pink and white one is a residence, but I'm not sure.

As I was getting closer to the beach, I was worried that it wouldn't be very habited. So I was making mental notes about the last stores and restaurants that I saw. When I got to over the final hill, those concerns were quickly alleviated. The entire stretch of road across from the beach was lined with restaurants and hotels. The only thing missing was water. The tide was low and with Ganghwa's gently sloping shore, the water was nowhere to be seen. So I headed down to the beach area to find a camping spot. After seeing a price list, I went to pay a woman who seemed to be collecting money. She brushed me off and seemed to indicate that someone would be around later to collect my money. She also seemed to tell me that I couldn't actually camp on the beach. So instead, I was left to set up on the terrace above the beach. Which was covered with rocks. They were smooth rocks, but rocks nonetheless. Given the wide array of services nearby, I decided to stay for the night anyways. There was an interesting set of performances that night by various high school groups. But there was also a constant stream of people hanging out on the beach all night long. I believe the last group finally dispersed around 5:30 am. So between the rocks and the people, it isn't a very good place to get a good nights sleep.

Distance: 46 km

Day 2: Climbing Mountains

After my restless night of sleep, I headed out Sunday morning to climb a nearby mountain. Mani-san is the tallest mountain on Ganghwa, and one of the most popular destinations. Biking around the mountain, I easily found the "base camp." A little town at the base of the mountain a flutter with activity. Lots of cars and lots of people milling around. Staying on the trail was quite easy, as it was well marked and there was a steady flow of people to follow. The view from the mountain is well worth the hike up. You can see the surrounding landscape and nearby islands. And you can actually make out parts of Incheon through the smog.

The big draw of Mani-san is actually Chamseongdan, an old altar on a site that has been reportedly used for 4,000 years. The site is considered one of the most sacred in Korea, and holds a great deal of historical significance.

At the top of Mani-san, a crowd gathers to rest, eat, drink, and take pictures. There's even an ice-cream saleswoman up there. If you notice, there's a helipad there as well. I'm not sure what the story behind it is. I did hear a helicopter in that direction as I was hiking down, but I didn't see if it was actually landing. Maybe it's used to refill the ice cream supply.

After hiking down Mani-san, I headed west to the ferry terminal. After a short ride on the ferry, I was on Seokmo-do. There's one mountain on the island, and one road that goes around the mountain. So it's easy to figure out where you are going. The destination on this island is Bomun-sa, a Buddhist temple. Finding the spot isn't hard, as there is again a busy area with shops and restaurants where all the Korean tourists gather. The temple itself is pretty interesting, but the highlight is the Buddha carved on the side of the mountain.

After returning to Ganghwa-do, I decided to head towards a campsite near Ganghwa-eup (the main town on Ganghwa). Since the sun was about to go down, I decided it would be better to take a less busy side road. On the map, it looked pretty straightforward, as this secondary road ran parallel to the main route, and merged at about the exact spot I was headed for. Unfortunately, trying to maintain the road proved a little more difficult than I thought. So in the dark of the evening, I ran into a dead end, and still hadn't reached my destination. I tried getting directions from a couple of Koreans that I saw, but they did want anything to do with the foreigner. So as I was back tracking, I noticed a bank of light towers lit up. Looking closer, I realized they were lighting a tennis court. And people were playing tennis. Figuring that I might find someone who would help me, I headed to the tennis court. While no one there spoke much English, they were quite helpful in pointing me in the correct direction.

So after getting directions, I headed back to the main route. Fortunately there wasn't much traffic, and nobody ran over me in the dark. As I got closer to town, I kept an eye out for the campsite but failed to spot any signs. Given the darkness around me, and the sprinkling of rain falling, I decided to continue heading into town. Since I'd been there before, I had a general idea of where to find a hotel. After a bit of pedaling around, I was able to find a nice little Yeogwan, which is a type of Korean hotel. There, I settled into a pizza and War of the Worlds, dubbed into Korean.

Distance: 52 km

Day 3: Meeting the Marines

Monday's goal was to tour the northern end of the island. There were a couple of dolmen sights marked on the map, and numerous battlefield remains line the coast. It's also just south of North Korea. My first stop was to see the Ganghwa dolmen. They actually have quite a few dolmens on the island, but this seems to be the best preserved and most popular dolmen to visit. There's a small park around the dolmen with models of other dolmens from around Korea.

After seeing these dolmens, I wanted to visit another dolmen site on the island. As I was getting close to the Gyosan-ri Dolmens, I stopped to check my map. Somebody stopped their car and pointed me in the right direction. He also told me that there would be a checkpoint, and to tell them that I was not going fishing. Since I didn't have a fishing pole, I figured that wouldn't be too hard to pull of. So I found the checkpoint, they asked if I was going fishing, and I quickly told them no. So they let me pass. From there, I headed up to the dolmens. These other dolmens aren't nearly as impressive as the Ganghwa dolmen. Although trying to actually find them in the woods is like going on an archeology exhibition.

After visiting the dolmen sight, I decided to take a little tour around the north coast and check out the DMZ area. So after an hour or so of roaming around, taking pictures, and getting water from the locals, I saw a bunker. Not unlike the one I saw up by Aegibong. So I decided to take a look around. After getting some pictures of the bunker, the South Korean fence, and North Korea, I headed back to my bike. Just as done packing my things back up and ready to head out, I saw a Marine truck go by. I could hear it come to a stop, and back up towards me. They pulled up next to me and the guy asked if I had taken any pictures. Thinking that it wouldn't be a good idea to lie to him, I told him yes. So he had to call his commander and report me. He then went through my pictures and deleted everything from the area. Pictures of the bunker, the fence, North Korea, and even pictures of the rice fields weren't acceptable. After that, they let me continue, warning me that I shouldn't be taking pictures. But not to worry, they missed this photo from when I was checking out the dolmens. Behold, the forbidden look at Ganghwa's northern rice fields, the Han River, and North Korea. Not very exciting. And a lot less informative than Google Earth.

Continuing on my sojourn through the forbidden zone, I eventually reached another checkpoint. As I was about to cruise past them, one of the Marines told me stop. He told me it was a restricted area and I shouldn't be there. So they called up their commander, undoubtedly the same guy the last Marine called, to tell him that there was a foreigner riding around the forbidden zone on his bike. Of course the commander already knew about me, so they waved me through. A short while later, I came across an interesting cemetery. Built on the side of a hill, each plot has a small hill built on it. Much like the historic burial mounds that are scattered around Korea, but on a much smaller scale. Since I'd already been through the checkpoint to get out of the restricted zone, I decided to take some pictures. Pictures of the cemetery and of North Korea, which could be seen across the river. Soon after leaving the cemetery, I passed another checkpoint. So I'm assuming these pictures weren't suppose to be taken either. But here they are.

A look at North Korea. Not much different then the view from Aegibong, so I'm not sure what the big to do was all about.

After passing through the final checkpoint, I headed down the east coast towards a campground I was planning to stay at. Since I hadn't had a chance to eat much, I ended up stopping at the little Eel Town along the coast. It's a collection of several restaurants that specialize in eel. While I've had eel sushi, I've never had an entire meal of eel before. The meal was rather expensive, at 30,000 won, or over $30, but it was very good. The eel was filleted and sliced up, then grilled at my table. There were also 20 side dished. And if you know anything about Korean food, it's all about the number of side dishes. A cheap-o kimbab place will give you two - pickled radish and kimchi. And low range neighborhood joint will offer between five and ten side dishes. But to actually get 20 side dishes is the mark of a quality dining establishment.

After my big dinner, I managed to drag myself to the camp site. As I was getting something to drink at the FamilyMart just outside the camp grounds, another foreigner showed up on his bike. We started talking and he turned out to have some pretty impressive credentials. He has spent much of the last 10 years biking around Asia, including his current trip, which is at just over 1.5 years long. He started in Turkey, biked to the Caspian, took the ferry to Turkmenistan, went through the stans, into China. After wintering in Thailand, he biked up from there and just recently took the ferry over from China. He was headed to Busan, the ferry to Japan, and is going to bike around Japan for several months. I spent a fair amount of time talking to him over the next couple of days, picking his brain for tips and pointers. I've considered biking from Korea across Asia, and he's definitely been an inspiration for my future endeavors.

Back to the campsite. It's called Hamheodongcheon, and it's located on the eastern side of Mani-san, just by Jeongsu-sa. Campsites are terraced up the side of the mountain, with bathroom and shower facilities available. There's a small camping fee, W1,500, that seems to be sporadically collected in the non-camping season. I didn't go all the way the top of the grounds, but it seems that the higher you go, the nicer the campsites are. For anyone looking to camp out, I highly recommend this location. A FamilyMart is right there, the beach is a few kilometers away, as is the small town of Onsu.

Distance: 63 km

Day 4: Pedaling Around

My bike is a tad too small for me, so after several days of riding, especially up and down hills, my knees start to ache a bit. So on Tuesday, I decided to take it relatively easy and save my energy for the ride home.

My first stop was Jeongdeung-sa, a Buddhist temple not too far from my campsite. It dates from the 17th century, and is one of the best remaining temples I've seen here. Many of Korea's temples were destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation.

Continuing east to the coast, the road became quite congested. Cars were backed up for a couple of kilometers on the way to the bridge crossing back to the mainland. There was a side path most of the way, which I believe, in theory, is for bicycles. Instead, it was lined by tents where local farmers sold their grapes, and in turn, a car of people buying grapes. So biking along this path wasn't very feasible. Instead, I had to squeeze between the cars and the edge of the road. Once I got past the bridge, traffic cleared up quite a bit. When I stopped by a convenience store for some water and ice cream, I found this store. It looks more like a tourist trap in South Dakota than something from Korea.

Continuing along the south, I eventually made my way back to the beach. And this time, the water was there.

Distance: 45 km

Day 5: Returning home

My final day was just packing up my gear and heading home. The only difficulty was when I departed from the main road and ended up heading the wrong way - back to Ganghwa. After some tricky maneuvering through rice fields, and an odd industrial town out in the middle of nowhere, I was eventually able to get back on track and find a subway station. While numbered roads can be interesting and fun, it's not the way to travel quickly.

Distance: 51 km

Overall, I highly recommend Ganghwa. If you're driving, there are tons of minbaks (minbaks are like a Korean bed-and-breakfast), pensions (the equivalent of resort condos), and motels all over the island. There's also a great camping site as well. If you bike, it's not too far from Gyeyang Station, and the island is pretty easy to get around. It'll more than likely be a repeat destination for me in the coming months.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Return to Si Island

This weekend, I returned to Si-do and the Full House beach. My last visit is detailed here. I didn't visit the sculpture beach on Mo-do this time, nor Jangbong-do. But I did get to camp out on a beach completely free of anyone else. I think there was a caretaker staying in the house, but I only saw him once, when he was getting coffee from the machine. So there were no fireworks, no late night singing, no noise at all. It was quite nice.

I got a nice sunset, courtesy of China and its pollution. I'll have to remember to find a more westward facing beach the next time.

Saw my first jellyfish up close and personal.

At low tide, the gap between Si-do and Sin-do disappears and turns into a mud flat. In the old days, this was the only time people could cross back and forth between the islands.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


The rainy season seems to have passed, so I was able to finally get out on my bike this weekend. So I made a weekend trip to Suwon , which is home to the World Heritage Hwaseong Fortress. I've only been able to make a few runs in the last month, so my legs were a little rusty. And with the sun pounding down and the humidity in the air, it did make for a rather exhausting ride. But it was still nice to get out and see something new.

The route from Incheon is pretty straightforward. The first stop was Ansan, where I had to get some Thai food. The road into Ansan isn't very busy, but after lunch it was a different story. Going through Ansan itself takes a while, as there are a lot of intersections to stop at. Once I got out of Ansan, the road expanded and become a major transportation corridor. Instead of traffic lighted intersections, there are on-ramps and off-ramps. So it takes some patience to wait out the traffic getting on and off of the highway. Coming back, I ended up taking a different route. While it was lass crowded, it involved quite a bit of map checking and GPS reading to maintain my course.

The fortress itself is rather interesting. While it's certainly not the Great Wall of China, it does have a wide variety of structures along the route. There are numerous guard houses, observation posts, and gates along the 5.5 km route.

Here are a few of the structures along the route:

One of the gates into the old city

A view along the wall

One of the guard towers

Another view along the wall

This isn't part of the wall, but it's a church near the wall. It's one of the largest and most interesting churches I've seen in Korea.

Saturday distance: 50 km
Sunday distance: 60 km

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Camping Season

I got my first good ride in since I returned to Korea. It was a good 65 km (40 miles) down to Daebu Island and back. The biggest change that I notice is that it is now camping season. Well, I don't think they really camp out. They just set their tents up for the day and hang out in the park or on the beach.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


First time back in Chicago in a year and a half. A few new things to report.

Cloud Gate, AKA The Bean has finally been polished. The effect is stunning. One of the best public sculptures of all time.

The Gehry band shell has been finished for some time. But it's still a sight to behold.

The to be 92-story Trump Tower, on the old Sun Times site, is well under way.

Friday, July 13, 2007

San Francisco

I finally made it to San Fran. A 9-hour layover allowed me to do a little sight seeing, as well as meet up with one of my friends from Buenos Aires for lunch. By the time lunch was over, I was so jet lagged I headed straight back to the airport. But I did get to see some of the things I've always wanted to at least catch glimpse of.

The Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.

the TransAmerica Pyramid.

the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf.


I didn't make it to Haight-Ashbury though. So I guess I'll have to go back sometime.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nam-san and the War Memorial Museum

I made one final trip to Seoul before heading on vacation. I decided to hike up Namsan (Mt. Nam). Unfortunately, the weather didn't really cooperate. There was a distinct fog, aka smog, over the city.

The view from the top of Namsan could be good. Although it's hard to tell on such a smoggy day.

Namsan and Seoul Tower, from the War Memorial Museum.

The War Memorial Museum is an impressive collection of Korean War artifacts. Unfortunately, the museum was closing before I got a chance to check it out. But on the outside is a wide array of military hardware.

Lots of tanks,


and helicopters. This, of course, is the helicopter made famous by M*A*S*H.

There are also plenty of airplanes, rockets, and other hardware on display. A definite must see when in Seoul.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Oh deer!

This weekend, I stumbled upon a major discovery. A very nice bike path that extends north up to Incheon Grand Park. Which is a nice ending point to grab some overpriced food and people watch. The route also connects to my south/east route through Sorae, across the rice fields, to the Greenway (see a few posts down), and beyond. Meaning that there is an almost 30km long bike route that is almost entirely bike paths and back roads. If I have time before I head back home, I'll try to map the entire route out on Google Earth. But given my current schedule, it might have to wait until August or September.

In the meantime, some picture from my ride.

I found this horse stable in the fall. They actually have a small track for the horses to run around as well.

I was a bit surprised to find this cattle "ranch" in town.

I was even more surprised to find this deer "ranch". It seems they're being raised for their antlers, as several had had them cut off (see deer #27 in the photo). I don't know if it's some sort of Oriental Medicine thing, or what.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Big Fill In

This probably isn't of much interest to anyone not familiar with Incheon. But since I spent some time working on it, I figured I might as well post it. This is an image of Incheon with the boundaries of Incheon from 1950 overlayed onto it. The red overlay is actually a map of MacArthur's 1950 invasion. Everything outside of the red boundaries is reclaimed land. I knew there was a lot of reclaimed land, but I didn't know it was that much.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


The latest island I visited is Muui-do. It can be reached by a short ferry ride from Jamjin-do, which is accessible by bridge at the southwest corner of the airport island. It's a small island, about 6km long and 2-3km wide. There are a couple of nice beaches that look like they'll get pretty crowded. Crowds were already beginning to develop, and the Korean beach season doesn't begin until July. There is an admission fee to the beaches though - W2,000, or about $2 - and each beach requires a separate fee. Here is a picture of one of the beaches.

The ride to the island is quite easy. From Incheon station it's a short hop to Wolmi-do. Then take the ferry to the airport island. From the ferry, it is then a 20km very flat and straight ride to the next ferry. Another short ferry ride and you're back to biking. The island itself is fairly hilly, but given the size of the island, it's not too bad. But access to both beaches requires a steep climb and descent. It's an easy day trip, even by bicycle.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Sunday was a trip that I've wanted to take for some time now. That was to venture as close to the DMZ as I could. To the north of Incheon, the Han River forms the border between North and South Korea, and I was hoping to get a glimpse across it. So we loaded up our bikes onto the subway and headed to the end of the line, Gyeyang station. It's an impressive new station that serves as the transfer point between the Incheon line and the airport line. From there, we headed north through Gimpo, and then northwest towards Ganghwa. The traffic was pretty busy, so I guess a lot of people were headed there for the day.

There were a couple of roads that headed up to the Han, so we took the first one we reached. All was going smoothly until we reached a town a couple kilometers from the river. Just past the town, we hit a marine checkpoint that wouldn't let us past. So we asked them about going to another spot on our map, a little red dot that was labeled 애기봉전망대 (aegibongjeonmangdae, whatever that means), and they seemed to suggest that it would be okay. So we back tracked a little and began heading west. A few kilometers of that, and we espied a body of water. The Han, we were guessing. So we headed north, a little leery of being stopped again. But fortunately, we are able to bike right up to the fence running alongside the river. Since it completely obstructed the view, we looked for higher ground. Unfortunately, that higher ground was occupied by a bunker. But since it didn't appear that anyone was occupying the bunker, we decided to test our luck. And what do you know, the two of us managed to capture the bunker and assume a position over looking the Han. I guess they're not expecting an invasion to come from the south.

From our position on top of the bunker. This is the fence that is keeping the North Koreans at bay. That, and a mile of river to cross and a couple of 20-something Korean marines.

Still not satisfied with the view, and spurred on by the little red dot on my map, we decided to continue onward. So we headed back down the hill, along the fence, and towards the hill where the little red dot beckoned us. The road, which is more like a driveway than a road, headed back into the hills. Still not sure if we we're supposed to be there, we continued along, passing by bunkers, a small marine post, and more bunkers. To the right, there was a dirt road heading up the hill with the red dot. So we took that road, which soon turned to a dirt path. Off the bikes we went, as we continued by hiking. Soon, the path reached a cul-de-sac, surrounded by the hill. But we could hear vehicles nearby. We soon noticed cars and vans driving overhead in front of us, and then discovered steps leading upwards. We took the steps, and discovered a nice, two-lane paved road heading towards the sought after red dot. Along the road we hiked for about one kilometer, and then, much to our surprise, discovered the red dot. Aegibong.

It was almost a let down, as it was more of a tourist trap then a hidden discovery. The parking lot was filled with cars and buses. There was a store selling all kinds of things. Mainly junky souvenirs, but they did have some North Korean liquor. While a bottle of DPRK Cognac would certainly be a nice conversation piece, $40 seemed a bit excessive. There was a large crowd that was being greatly entertained by a man telling stories. We're not sure what about, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. After wondering around the area for a while, we finally found the vantage point that we came for. High on the hill, looking directly into North Korean territory.

Koreans taking a peak at the North

The contrast between North and South is quite stark. While South Korea has reforested the hills, the North remains bleak and bare. There's a small village for the South Koreans to look at as well. Apparently, people even live there as well. How it is suppose to entice the South Koreans is beyond me. The buildings are even more unappealing than the South Korean apartment buildings. And there's no sign of cars, nor any type of super market or norae bang (singing room), which are both basic staples of any Korean village. If that's the window display, I'd hate to see what the inside of the store looks like.

A couple views of North Korea

After getting our fill of North Korea, we headed back down to our bikes. Knowing that there was a road to be had, we went back to the little drive, and soon found the main road. After traveling a short way down the road, we came across another marine checkpoint. They looked rather surprised to see us, especially since we hadn't passed through the checkpoint on the way up. After a brief consultation with another guard, we were saluted and waved through. I'm still not sure if we were supposed to be up there though. It looked like the Koreans passing through the checkpoint had to produce some papers and the guard had a stack of ID cards that he was holding on to. But hey, playing the clueless foreigner card pays off sometimes.

From there, is was just the simple matter of following the roads back to the subway station. The overall trip was around 62 km.